Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving in a sea of troubles

(Listen to an audio version of this post at

What would William Shakespeare say about America’s deepening economic crisis?

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” perhaps.

Maybe he’d challenge us to stoically “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Or to act boldly, to “take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.”

How quickly overconfidence turns to anxiety, fear and anger when the human institutions we rely on inevitably falter or fail. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Shakespeare’s Puck proclaims in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“WWSS” (What would Shakespeare say?) is a valuable exercise. His plays are a comprehensive guided tour of human behavior, which he saw as comic or tragic — or both at the same time.

The best guide to human fallibility, however, is the Bible, which also provides an antidote: God’s faithfulness.

Thanksgiving is an ideal time to refocus on the only reliable foundation we have. That’s what the Pilgrims at Plymouth did, and they went through harder times than we’re experiencing.

“Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You” (Psalm 33:20-22, NASB).

“Lovingkindness” or “steadfast love” are translations of the Hebrew word chesed, which appears over and over in Scripture. It expresses the inexpressible — the infinite faithfulness, love and mercy of the Lord, which span all generations.

He doesn’t promise permanent prosperity. He promises Himself to those who seek Him — and He never breaks a promise, no matter how long it takes to fulfill.

I thought about God’s acts of faithfulness — some large, some small — when I saw these recent reports from mission fields:

An American teenager, age 13, knew she had a story to tell. So when a natural disaster befell the people her Southern Baptist missionary family serves in East Asia, she insisted on going with her parents to minister in the area. One day she and an older Christian woman shared the Gospel with a non-Christian mother and her teenage daughter.

The mother had heard previously about Jesus’ death on the cross but hadn’t heard about His resurrection. Once she and her daughter heard the complete story of His love, however, they indicated their willingness to accept Christ. But the mother insisted her daughter was too young to make such a drastic decision.

“Well, I’m only 13 years old and I believe,” said the young American. “When God gives you understanding, it doesn’t matter how old you are.”

Both mother and daughter prayed to receive Christ that day.
In another East Asian location, a missionary had labored to the point of despair. He never imagined that he and his wife would serve among an unreached ethnic minority group for seven years without seeing any spiritual fruit whatsoever.

“For the first seven years, there was not a believer, nobody convicted of sin, nothing,” he said.

During the past year, however, they’ve seen God move.

“We have seen the first Christians come to faith, the first baptisms and the first church started,” he said, barely containing his emotion. “We have heard the first praise songs sung and seen the first Scriptures translated. Now God has raised up a leader from within the group.”

His joyful tears flowed as he praised the faithfulness of the One who called, sustained and used them to proclaim His name to those who had never heard. In His time, the response came.

If material blessings seem scarcer this Thanksgiving season, bless the Maker of all things instead. Bless Him for Himself, not just His gifts.

“Thyself, o my God. Thyself for Thine own sake, above all things I love,” prayed Lancelot Andrewes, a contemporary of Shakespeare and one of the principal translators of the King James Bible. “Thyself as my last end I long for . …”

His lovingkindness is better than life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

London: end of 'Christian civilization'?

Before reading this post, check out “London: Capital of the world,” a short multimedia presentation and overview of the challenge of omnicultural London at http://www.commissionstories.com/?p=45.

“Upon this battle depends the future of Christian civilization.” – Winston Churchill, June 1940, preparing the British people for expected Nazi invasion

The discouraging news headlines just keep coming for Christians in London and the rest of the United Kingdom:

-- “Government plays down Christmas for fear of offending minorities”

-- “Active Muslims to outnumber Christian church members by 2049”

-- “Planned London mega-mosque would be biggest religious building in Britain”

-- “Archbishop calls incorporation of Muslim shariah law into British legal system ‘unavoidable.’”

-- “Britain ‘no longer Christian,’ says influential think tank

That last item isn’t exactly stop-the-presses news, given the long, slow death of the Church of England. But it jars nevertheless.

“It’s time for Britain to recognize that it is no longer a Christian nation and should embrace multiculturalism,” said a news article summarizing conclusions of a 2007 study by the Institute for Public Policy Research. “Echoing sentiments heard throughout Britain in recent years, the authors of the report say the traditional pillars of British identity have now vanished or been greatly weakened. Church attendance is at historically low levels, the British Empire is gone, the monarchy is far less popular and the Second World War is inexorably slipping into memory.”

The government should create a “new and more inclusive national identity, part of which includes honoring the diverse cultures found in Britain,” the study recommended. Conservative critics charged that the study’s authors were calling for “throwing out” history and “denying the fundamental contribution” of Christianity to Britain.

Meanwhile, overall Sunday church attendance declined from 3.7 million in 1998 to 3.2 million in 2005 (year of the latest United Kingdom church census) – barely more than 6 percent of the population. At current rates, it’s likely to fall below 5 percent by 2015.

So has the “Christian civilization” the late, great Winston Churchill courageously called Britons to defend against Nazi barbarism (see quote above) finally succumbed to the quiet onset of senility, secularism and shariah?

If “Christian civilization” means a civic religion to which government and society pay lip service, yes, it’s dead in England – or on life support. If it means the kingdom of God on earth, however, reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated.

“Denominationalism is in big decline, but Christianity is on the increase,” contends evangelical Anglican vicar Mark Melluish, whose multicolored London flock is rapidly growing. London Baptist pastor Boyd Williams agrees — and challenges other London churches to break out of their siege mentality and get moving.

“We’ve got eyesight that isn’t clear,” says Williams. “We don’t see the (believers) around us from other ethnic groups for all the potential they have. They’re more gifted than we are in many ways. They’re evangelistic. They have faith. They just need training and channeling and they will be a mighty force. We’re just scratching the surface.”

Make no mistake: London is an enormous challenge for missions.

“Secularism is the predominant ‘religion’ of the city, but every other ‘ism’ is here in strong force,” acknowledges a Southern Baptist missionary in the city. “The largest Sikh and Hindu temples outside of India are in west London. London is the Islamic capital of Europe. Satanism and all kinds of mystic practices are also alive and well.”

In other words, London mirrors many of the urban centers of Europe. The Gospel is one often-lonely voice in a noisy, crowded marketplace of ideas — not unlike first-century Athens, where Paul preached to intellectuals and pagans, scoffers and seekers.

Christian history shows that sometimes God sends His children to the nations, and sometimes He sends the nations to us. London ceased to be the capital of “Christian civilization” long ago. But it might just regain that title as Asians, Africans, Arabs, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and every other variety of people find Christ there — and take His Gospel to the world.

(Listen to an audio version of this post at

Friday, November 7, 2008

A time to lead

Following a historic presidential election — followed not only by Americans but by people the world over — here are some wise words from a wise man, Chuck Colson:

“Whether you voted for Barack Obama or John McCain, whether you’re recovering from your all-night celebration or drying the tears from your pillow, today’s a good day to remember the words of the apostle Paul: ‘I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

“And the new president will surely need our prayers, because he and his administration face huge, serious challenges to the health of our nation and to peace in the world — challenges that, in my opinion, neither he nor any government on earth will have the power to overcome without divine aid.

“How has America come to this point? Why is our economy on the brink of disaster? Why is our culture so utterly depraved? I can only think of what Alexander Solzhenitsyn said about the catastrophic consequences of the Russian revolution. ‘I recall,’ he said, ‘hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.’

“Solzhenitsyn was right. Indeed, I can’t find any better explanation for why we Americans find ourselves in the state we are in. We have forgotten God. We have also forgotten that American democracy — indeed Western Civilization itself — is the product of the Judeo-Christian understanding of God and humanity.

Without that revelation that man is created in the image of God, our founders never would have recognized the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, as I and others like Rodney Stark have argued, modern science and education, liberal democracy, capitalism flourished in Western civilization precisely because of the Judeo-Christian worldview ….

“As I’ve re-read the Old Testament prophets recently, I couldn’t help but notice the recurring theme: The people of God turned away from Him and worshipped false idols. The result was always disaster.

“Is God responsible for credit markets collapsing around the world? No. We’re responsible. Because instead of worshiping God, we’ve worshipped false idols of the marketplace, credit card companies and cheap mortgages. We’ve put our own appetites over our duties to God and neighbor.

“So this is no time for Christians to go into the bunkers. No time to wail or moan over our retirement plans. This is a time to repent, to pray more, to give more. It’s a time for Christians to lead, encourage, and minister to a faltering country in a faltering economy.

“This is a time for the Church to get serious about Christian discipleship. Enough cheap grace. So pray for the new president and his administration. But most of all, my brothers and sisters, this is a time to love our neighbors and to hunger for God and His righteousness.”

Amen to that.

Full Colson commentary: The Day After